hearty and more persistent gardeners among us, braving the challenges of
germinating flowering perennial plant seed, then growing and transplanting seedlings
is an interesting area to research and pursue.
Frequently though, it’s often a lengthy and frustrating process.
Put obstacles aside momentarily and let’s start
with a simple flower we all know, the Columbine.
How many of
you reading this posting recognize the title quote above as the first line of
our state song?
Sitting here at my
laptop, gazing out at 8” of snow on my back hillside, it’s hard to think
flowering, colorful thoughts while the garden is buried underneath a white
But I can’t stop imagining this
‘purple dusted’ flower.
(Again, a descriptive
phrase from our state song).
delicate flower has become a true favorite of mine. Up until late this last
summer, I had a small bed of Columbine growing by my front deck and another by
my small water feature in the back yard.
Because there is no fencing around my yard, these small beds were
protected by 4’ high cages with laces on top to discourage curious noses trying
to detect an instant snack! Alas, as the
drought took us well into early Fall, I came home one day to discover the cages
around my front bed had been knocked over and the Columbine eaten to stubs. My Columbine are planted in memory of special
people I’ve lost. It was a hard picture
to see that afternoon, yet the snow covering the hillside this morning, pushes
me to look forward in a renewed planning effort for these beds to emerge again next
know I’ll need to rely on Garden Center help for blooming plants this year, but
with luck, perhaps germinating some seeds will assist my efforts for next year. Allow me to explain how I became so enamored
by these flowers: On the SE side of my
house, under some pines I noticed two purple & white flowers growing
happily, partially hidden off an uphill path frequented by deer and elk. I have watched with wonder over the years how
these true natives manage to survive, some years blooming happily and other
years staying dormant for lack of water or simply veiled from far sighted
critters! These flowers have come to be
welcomed landscape visitors who do their own thing while I take pleasure in
just knowing they are there. These Rocky Mountain Aquilegia are just some of the native perennials for our higher
elevations, self-seeding and using the cold and snow to their growing
advantage. (Note: There are a variety
of Columbine seeds available in Catalogs and Garden Centers, so be careful in
choosing. It can impact the successful germination
for heirlooms, hybrids or seed you’ve collected.)
The Native Columbine
are among the hardiest of our flowering plants. Colorado has the Blue and
Golden varieties; however, I’d also like to note the Red Columbine Aquilegis canadensis.
This is a charming
small red/yellow variety that attracts hummingbirds and 4 types of bees.
This is native to our East Coast and Canada up
to Zone 8, but I’ve also seen this plant growing in multiple diverse zones from
South Dakota to California’s Bay Area; also, Southern California, Seattle and my
former backyard in Metro Denver. Aquilegia McKana group
popular varieties with their large multi-colored flowers.
These colors will change for each new
blooming cycle, sometimes merely by the pollinators who may have visited the
plant or by the hybridization of two parent seeds.
many native flowering plants, cold stratification is a good method to encourage
seed germination, especially for those seeds with hard, waxy seed coats where
cold and water are needed.
There is a
good reference document from Missouri Botanical Gardens about Native Seed Propagation Methods.
Starting Plants Indoors from Seeds
by the University of Missouri Extension
office. This latter document provides good guidelines on temperature and
basically gives seeds a jump-start in the germination process that native
wildflowers get by just being subjected to outside elements (cold and water),
especially during winter months.
stock of your patience when it comes to cold stratification and seed
germination. Prepare to be tested!!
is not a case of simply soaking seeds in water overnight to help soften seed
Just like a dormant cold period
for bulbs, many perennial seeds do need cold in the germination process.
Do your homework.
There are numerous methods to try but The University of Illinois Extension
this following simple cold stratification process:
1) Place seed in a plastic bag w/moist sand
or sphagnum moss.
2) Place bag in a corner of your frig for 4
*** Do not freeze bag as this slows
down the germination.***
two-step pre-conditioning process allows you to sow seeds indoors in much the
same manner you may already do for vegetable seedlings or annual flowers.
Remember perennial seeds are notoriously slow
to germinate, often 3-4 weeks or longer.
They also recommend that if you get no germination, place your container
outside for sun and water during the summer.
Seeds could still germinate over several years
If you are lucky enough to have germination
and eventual seedlings, treat them for the special gifts they are!
Do not expect seedlings to produce flowers
the first year, but with luck, you will eventually be rewarded with that purple
Or if you’ve germinated
hybrid McCanna Columbine seeds, you may have a rainbow in your own garden
In general, allow seeds to mature
from dead flowers and let them self-sow to the soil.
If you don’t mulch too heavily and keep the
beds moist, these flowers should return again and again.
There are additional flowering perennials
that you can try to germinate from seed: Rudbeckia, Verbena, Dianthus,
Helianthus, Prairie Cone Flower, Penstemon and Oriental Poppy.
Cross reference these with CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.242 on Colorado
Native Herbaceous Perennials
for further insights on elevation, time, size
our continued quest for new and enduring color in our gardens during the coming
growing season, we often need help by purchasing established plants (when it
comes to immediate blossoms, many being perennial flowering plants).
Consider the potential cost effectiveness of
germinating these seeds.
Life is full of
challenges … so why not try germinating these seeds?
Finally, we mustn’t forget, many pollinators
are depending upon us.
Spring garden planning!